Conference seeks answers to water resource problems, reaching out internationally

By Mario Montes

The Rio GrandeOn Jan. 22-23, New Mexico State University’s Water Resources Research Institute and NMSU’s International Relations Institute will host a conference to address the problems and compare the similarities of the Rio Grande watershed and the Middle East’s Jordan River watershed.

New Mexico State University is looking beyond this nation’s borders to find answers to one of the scarcest resources of the arid Southwest – water.

New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute, NMSU’s International Relations Institute, with co-sponsors Sandia National Laboratories, NMSU’s Institute for Energy and the Environment, and others will gather experts from around the United States, Mexico and the Middle East to discuss similarities and problems of the Rio Grande and Jordan River basins.

The Rio Grande provides water for Colorado, New Mexico, Texas and Mexico. The Jordan River provides water for Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria. The Rio Grande water shed is regulated by two different treaties between the U.S. and Mexico. The portion above Fort Quitman, Texas, is regulated by the treaty of 1906.  Texas’ lower valley Rio Grande watershed is regulated by the treaty of 1944. The Jordan River is also regulated by treaties – peace treaties between adjacent countries after the 1967 Six Day War between Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt in which water issues were one of the catalysts for hostilities.

Though wars over water are not in the immediate history of Mexico, Texas and New Mexico, sharing of the Rio Grande, at times, has created tense moments between the shareholders. However, the Middle East, southern New Mexico, west Texas and northern Mexico do share one thing – arid lands, and limited water resources by the number of rivers and aquifers that supply these regions.

On Jan. 22-23, 2009, these similarities will be discussed. The “Transboundary Water Crises: Learning from Our Neighbors in the Rio Grande (Bravo) and Jordan River Watersheds” conference will have an impressive list of 16 speakers, all experts on water issues. Some of the problems they will discuss are “the exploding human population along both rivers, water quality issues such as waterborne diseases, salinity problems, and because it is an arid environment, limited supplies,” said Karl Wood, director of the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute and principal organizer of the conference. “It’s a limited resource with greater demands, and the demands are increasing while the supplies are not.”

“This conference will give the university community and people in the region a wonderful opportunity to look at two different basins that share similar challenges, similar physical geographies, somewhat similar political geographies,” said Christopher P. Brown, associate professor of geography and director of Spatial Applications Research Center at NMSU. Brown is a big fan of comparative studies and has done research in comparing water resource and border security issues in the Middle East and the Rio Grande region.

One of the speakers at the conference will be former U.S. ambassador to Qatar Kenton Keith, who is also senior vice president of the Meridian International Center, a nonprofit institution dedicated exclusively to public diplomacy and global engagement. Keith will speak about the demographics of the Jordan River region.

Another expert in Middle East water studies is Clive Lipchin, professor at Israel’s Arava Institute. As a member of the Arava Institute faculty Lipchin teaches courses in sustainable development, water management, scientific research methodology and culture and environment interactions. Most recently, he has been involved in a regional project on assessing impacts on the declining water level of the Dead Sea.

Closer to home, Jean Parcher from the U.S. Geological Survey Mid-Continent Geographic Science Center in Austin, Texas, will give conference attendees an overview of the Rio Grande watershed. She has done research on transboundary geographic issues with an emphasis on the U.S.-Mexico border region.

Felipe Arrequín Cortés from the Mexico’s National Water Commission will speak on the historical governance of the Rio Grande. Arrequín Cortés has done research and written several papers on Mexico’s water resources.

On Jan. 23, there will be a panel discussion and open forum that will be moderated by Delano Lewis, former U.S. ambassador to South Africa and director of the International Relations Institute. Lewis and Wood will also give the opening remarks for the conference on Jan. 22.

Even though there are no fees for the conference, participants are encouraged to register online at

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